Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Rangers down and almost out

Not that I'm taking the blame for the Rangers' inevitable second round exit, but it's not like I didn't ask for it. Obviously, my desire to face the Penguins in the quarterfinals wasn't from watching them steamroll the Senators. Ottawa was in such a state of collapse, I figured just about any team would have swept them. After all, their own coach accused the Pens of tanking the final game of the season so they could face the Sens. And he's probably right.

But the Penguins are a steam engine without breaks. They have beaten the Rangers to just about every loose puck, every player back checks hard, and their 1-2-2 trap seems unbreakable. I still think Sidney Crosby's a turd, but boy are the Pens fun to watch.

New York hasn't actually played all that badly, the third period of game one notwithstanding. They've had their chances. Jaromir Jagr is playing like a man possessed. But Marc-Andre Fleury has clearly out dueled Henrik Lundqvist, who's doing little to live up to his 6-year, $41 million contract. That's good news for Fleury, an RFA at the end of the season and surely seeking a substantial raise.

The difference has been intensity, and the Pens have it it spades. The Flyers will surely try to pound Crosby, Malkin & Co. into submission in the next round, but I don't think there's a team remaining that can match their energy for a full 60 minutes or longer. It will take some lucky bounces to put the Pens on their heels, something the Rangers haven't had much of.

Things clearly aren't looking up for the Blueshirts. Only two teams in NHL history have overcome a 3-0 series deficit - the Maple Leafs in 1942 and the Islanders in 1975. They also have to deal with the possible loss of key penalty killer Blair Betts (fractured cheek) and the real loss of megapest Sean Avery (lacerated spleen - not cardiac arrest as first reported by the loosely fact checking NY Daily News).

Ranger fans better run down to the bodega and get a candle to light. We'll need the power of St. Michael behind our boys.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Is Crosby a diver or just a putz?

To cap off the Rangers' collapse in the opening game against the Penguins, Sidney Crosby drew an interference call which led to the game winning goal on the PP. This, of course, was New York's fear. That Sid the Kid's would make a difference in this series not by his stellar skill, but by whining and diving the Rangers into shorthanded situations. Sure enough, after a whistle happy first period, Crosby drew two of the three minors called in the final 40 minutes.

Don't get me wrong. This is not a post about how the refs gave the game to the Pens. It was interference. Marty Straka's sin wasn't so much trying to skate his line in front of Crosby's, but he stopped moving his feet. The right to your line pretty much disappears at that point. Sure Crosby embellished the contact, but it's more upsetting that the refs went for it that late in a tie game. Sometimes a slow arm by a referee isn't such a bad thing. If Scott Gomez doesn't break up that rush, then that's a real scoring chance negated by the interference. But that wasn't the case, no matter what Michel Therrien says.

The whole row got me thinking. How can one superstar be so loved (Alexander Ovechkin) and the integrity of another (Crosby) be questioned by hockey fans? least by those located outside of Western Pennsylvania. Isn't what's so great about the sport is that no matter whose team colors you bleed, you always admire an amazing play or player?

Sidney Crosby is like that annoying guy in rec league that plays balls out every second he's on the ice. You know Johnny Hustle Hockey. In his head, every beer league game is game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. Body position means nothing. He'll try to skate through you rather than give up on the puck, forgetting the fact we all have to go to work the next day. What a turd. You can't wait until you catch him in the corner so you can smear him. That's a body checking penalty your teammates will gladly kill because they hate Johnny Hustle Hockey too.

There's a certain disrespect in playing hustle hockey. Are you really so competitive that you're willing to risk injuring someone or yourself (because invariably Johnny Hustle Hockey always skates a million miles an hour with his head down) to win a meaningless game? Is winning more important than sportsmanship?

Crosby leaves me with that same feeling of disrespect. Granted the stakes are much higher in the NHL. Anyone who doesn't play with the energy of Johnny Hustle Hockey will be back taking bus trips in the minors. No, Crosby's disrespects the game in a different way. He willing to do almost anything to win. Unfortunately, that includes embellishing penalties to gain a man advantage and working the refs so that the next borderline infraction goes his way.

Compare that the game's recent greats - such as Yzerman, Sakic and now Ovechkin - who had to battle have through a lot traffic. It was even worse for those in the "old NHL". Those guys showed the same dogged determination, but would never dream of leaving their feet if it looked like they weren't going to win the puck. And they turned around and back checked, instead of glaring at the referee.

I recognize Crosby is a highly skilled player and he's going to draw some very legitimate calls, but I don't want to see refs tricked into calling penalties by him or any other player. In my book, that's cheating just the same as a hook or trip, except diving isn't a last ditch effort to break up a play. It's a big F you to the refs, the fans and the integrity of the game. And it's even more egregious when it's someone who doesn't need to embellish to make a difference in the game.

That's why I don't like Sidney Crosby. And to answer the question at hand, Crosby is both a diver and a putz, and a whiner to boot. What a turd.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

RIP: WHL chairman Ed Chynoweth

Ed Chynoweth, Western Hockey League's Chairman of the Board, passed away today after a year plus battle with cancer. He was 66.

Chynoweth's contributions to major junior hockey are incredible. If you do not know much about this man, I encourage you to read what Greg Drinnan has written here and here. You'll quickly understand why he was so well-respected. Without Chynoweth's 37 years of service, the WHL would not be the leader it is in both player development and education opportunities.

He is survived by his wife Linda and sons Dean, GM/coach of the Saskatoon Blades, and Jeff, GM of the Kootenay Ice. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, particularly Dean Chynoweth, whom I consider a friend.

Update: For more on Ed Chynoweth's legacy, read the Eric Duhatschek-penned obituary in the Globe & Mail.

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Conference quarterfinals come to a close

After a couple game 7s tonight, the Flyers and Sharks advance to the Eastern and Western conference semi-finals respectively.

The Flyers dumped the Caps on an OT goal by Joffrey Lupul, his first of the playoffs. They'll meet the Canadiens in the next round. Before Montreal was taken to a game 7 in their series against Boston, I would have given the edge to the Canadiens. But both teams seem plagued by inconsistency, so it could be a toss up. I'll go with CANADIENS IN SIX. If the Flyers win, the city of Montreal will burn. Heck, it may burn if they do win.

In the West tonight, the Flames crumpled after allowing four unanswered goals in the 2nd period. The story of the night, though, is 2 goals and 2 assists from Jeremy Roenick to lead the charge for the Sharks, his first points of the post-season. Coach Ron Wilson sat Roenick for game 6. Styles must have gotten the message loud and clear because the old man clearly stepped up his game. San Jose moves on to face Dallas, who are hot hot hot after eliminating the defending Stanley Cup Champion Ducks. Unlike Anaheim, San Jose won't hit themselves out of position. Dallas can't simply wait for the Sharks to make the same mistakes. My pick, STARS IN SEVEN.

Tonight's games decided the other two match ups as well.

The Rangers will face the Penguins in the East's other semi-final. This is the match up I wished for. Let's hope I'm not wrong. Both teams are well rested so it should be an exciting, fast-paced series. I predict RANGERS IN SIX. What, did you think I'd pick the Pens?

Back in the West, the Red Wings and the Avalanche will meet for the sixth time since 1996. (That's as far back as has stats for.) Colorado has the edge 3-2 in series wins during that time frame. Detroit has made the playoffs for 17 consecutive years, winning three Stanley Cups, but have had little to show for their efforts in recent years. I think the Red Wings finally understand that the Stanley Cup is much more pleasurable than the President's Trophy. As with Nashville, Detroit will take the path of most resistance but ultimately defeat Colorado. RED WINGS IN SEVEN.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bettman cooks Detroit's octupus

Commissioner Gary Bettman is determined to take all the fun out of the NHL. On the heals the Sean Avery Rule (no more waving your stick in front of the goalie's face), Zamboni drivers are no longer allowed to remove debris thrown on the ice or they'll be dinged for a $10K fine...or at least they're not allowed to twirl it. Depends on your interpretation.

While the new rule doesn't name the Detroit Red Wings specifically, the league isn't veiling the fact that this is in relation to Wings fans throwing octupi at the Joe Louis Arena. I guess it just took them 56 years to figure out it may be a problem.
NHL spokesman Frank Brown gave this explanation: "Because matter flies off the octopus and gets on the ice when he does it."

- Detroit Free Press

Hmm, that's a complete 180 from the league's recent stance on the sin.
As recently as last year's playoffs, the NHL tacitly endorsed [Zamboni driver Al] Sobotka's antics.

"Every so often, an octopus slips out of someone's hands, and Al is right there to take care of the matter," Brown told the New York Times last May. "And he cannot be blamed if, as it tries to break free from Al's grasp, the octopus lifts Al's arm and twirls itself in the air."

- The Detroit News

This is all a little bit deja vu for my fellow Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL) fans. If you're not familiar, that loud hippie in section 101 is Zamboni John. Before he took on the role of unofficial team cheerleader, he was the Zamboni driver at the old Mercer Arena. The city (who ran the arena) didn't take kindly to his high-fiving the audience while cutting the ice and his waving the large fish that T-Birds fans threw at every game versus longtime rival Portland Winter Hawks. "Zamboni John" Scannell is now a labor and employment attorney. Maybe Zamboni John can represent Sobotka should he defy Bettman's ruling.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Bruins force game 7

Well, that was exciting.

An end-to-end third period including 5 goals in the final 10 minutes, the Bruins defeated the Canadiens in game 6, staying alive and turning it into a one-game series. If you're a believer in momentum, then your money's on Boston.

If the Capitals were the Cinderella story of the regular season, then the Bruins are the Cinderella story of the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Boston struggled with injuries all season. Only the Islanders and the Panthers had more man-games lost this season. And the Bruins' key injuries - Patrice Bergeron, Alexei Zhamnov and Manny Fernandez - are out indefinitely with little hope of returning for the post-season. When you've got Milan Lucic logging power play time, you know you have some challenges to overcome.

Game 7 is Monday night. Set your DVRs.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Rangers advance to Eastern semis

For the second season in a row, the Rangers have advanced to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. They did so by knocking off the Devils, who dispatched the Blueshirts from the playoffs in 2006.

The moment we all were waiting for, will Marty shake Avery's hand?

And the answer is no. He wouldn't even look his nemesis in the eye. Brodeur actually took all the bumps in stride. It was his teammates and coach Brent Sutter who did all the complaining. I guess he was just holding it all in, waiting for the handshake line to let the world know how he really feels.

To add insult to injury, Avery finally broke his self-imposed media silence.
“Everyone talks about how unclassy I am, but Fatso there just forgot to shake my hand, I guess.”

- Sean Avery

We all know how well it ended last year when Avery lipped off after New York beat Atlanta in four straight. If you need a reminder, Avery was ineffectual in the next round and the Rangers lost to a heart-breaking series to the Sabres.

I was surprised by how many pundits were picking New Jersey to win this series. New York owned Brodeur & Company all season long, going 7-0-1 and earning an important 15 of 16 possible points. In fact, the Devils' game 3 victory was their only win over Henrik Lundqvist all year. (Steven Valiquette was in net for the overtime loss in their final meeting of the regular season.)

The Rangers have been their own worst enemy this season, but when they commit to playing their best game all 60 minutes (or longer if necessary), they're a pretty sound club defensively with the offensive depth to wait for their chances. As much press as their crease-crashing has received, consistency was really the key to New York winning the opening round.

Now Tom Renney and his soldiers wait for Washington-Philadelphia series to conclude. If the Flyers finish off the Capitals, then the Rangers will face the Penguins. If the Caps some how perform a miracle and comeback from a 3-1 deficit, then the Blueshirts will take on the Canadiens.

While the Rangers won the season series against both the Habs and the Pens, Montreal is a different team than they were at the beginning of the season when New York had most of their success against them. Pittsburgh is a hard working team but not strong defensively and can be easily exposed, particularly if they're forced to open up. Scoring first and disciplined defensive zone coverage would be the keys to a Rangers-Penguins match up. Of the those two potentials second round opponents, I'd prefer New York to face Pittsburgh. So, go Flyers!

If Boston upsets Montreal, then New York would face off against the winner of the Philadelphia-Boston series. Doubtful the Rangers would start Flyer-killer Valiquette between the pipes if they draw Philly.

With a goal and two assists tonight, Jaromir Jagr moves into a four five-way tie for the lead in playoff scoring. The last and final trigger to renew Jagr's contract for next season (including the Caps' 50% subsidy) is if he wins the Conn Smythe trophy. Larry Brooks of the New York Post points out that he and two other writers who cover the Rangers beat are among the press who cast ballots for playoffs MVP. I don't think there's any rule that says the Smythe winner has to play in the finals. Hopefully they know their jobs are much easier with Jagr on Broadway.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Emery skirts the blame

"I don't take responsibility for the team losing in the playoffs I can tell you that much," Emery told reporters Thursday as the team cleaned out their lockers.

"I wasn't playing as much as I wanted to and they (management) were coming at me, upset with me - I was pissed off," said Emery. "I thought, you take a team to the finals you're the guy until you're bad enough not to be the guy kind of thing, and I shouldn't have treated it that way."


Um, actually that's exactly right, Ray. Your 3.10 GAA and .890 SV% was worse than Martin Gerber's 2.72 and .910. And Gerber pitched a couple shutouts as well. You weren't "the guy". Far from it.

Granted, I don't blame Emery for the Senators' collapse either. Not many people do. But I don't think Senator fans will miss the diva goaltender, who's clearly thrown his team under the bus while trying to write his ticket out of Ottawa. With two years remaining at $3.25M and $3.5M, he's not going anywhere fast.

In his blog, James Mirtle looks at the economics of buying Emery out. It's more likely the Senators will send him down to start next season with the secret hope another team will plucks Emery off the waiver wire before he reaches Binghamton.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

July 1st preview

TSN has compiled a comprehensive list of potential UFAs and RFAs, providing they don't resign with their respective teams before July 1st.

It's not shaping up to be a stellar shopping season for GMs. After Marian Hossa and Bruce Campbell, the rest of the all-star UFAs are past their primes, though still effective.

The RFA market will likely be where the action is at, with some young studs hoping to have Dustin Penner-like (or at least Ryan Kesler-like) luck this summer.


Samsonov re-signs with the Hurricanes

Sergei Samsonov, the Eastern Conference's version of Ladislav Nagy, resigned with Carolina for 3 years and $7.6M. For the Hurricanes, who claimed Samsonov off re-entry waivers from the Blackhawks, it's going to cost them an extra $770K per year to retain the heretofore underachieving wing's services. But it's actually $1M less than Samsonov made this season.

Samsonov hasn't lived up to his potential since the lockout and has played for five different clubs in the last three seasons. He was scheduled to become an UFA on July 1, but smartly took a reduced paycheck from Carolina before the team could come to its senses.

If Samsonov indeed returns to being a first line winger, then it's a steal of a deal by GM Jim Rutherford. But hockey fans, particularly those in Montreal, are rightfully skeptical.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

So what did I miss?

A lot can happen in 77 days - the last time I wrote anything of consequence on this blog. I've had to catch up on a few stories, including:

  • The Rangers make their third consecutive playoff appearance. This is the same team I had to take a break writing about because I thought I was going to slit my wrists. After I bid adieu to Rangers Watch, New York went on a 21-7-7 run to finish the season and take the 5th seed in the East.
  • Long term contracts = return of the franchise player? You don't need a Rick DiPietro, Alexander Ovechkin or Mike Richards-length contract to be unmovable. If your guy signs a big deal and then bites it the first year in, good luck getting another team to bet a "change of scenery" will make the remaining years on an over-paid deal worthwhile. Hope you like Dustin Penner, Oilers fans. He's not going anywhere soon.
  • The trade deadline is the new all-star game...boring. Sure there were a lot of deals, but only three headline grabbing moves: Bruce Campbell to San Jose, Marian Hossa to Pittsburgh, and Brad Richards to Dallas. See above if you're wondering why. Of the three, only Richards is under contract for next season. It's not just the potential RFAs who are getting multi-year contracts. Last summer's UFA crop were walking away long-term pacts as well. The pool for rentals getting slim, which makes for a pretty unexciting trade deadline day. Just ask TSN.
  • Bobby Orr turned 60. We may never see another defenseman like him. But thanks to YouTube, we'll never forget his legacy. If you've got some time on your hands, check it out.
  • The NHL instituted the Sean Avery Rule. Did the NHL really need to amend the rule book to stop behavior that would otherwise be corrected with one slap shot to the back of the head? Richard Zednick gets his neck slashed with a skate and no one in the league (or NHLPA) rushes to make neck guards mandatory. Avery plays "I'm not touching you!" with Martin Brodeur and there's a new interpretation for unsportsmanlike conduct in a matter of hours. Apparently, falling on top of Brodeur every chance he gets is still OK with the NHL.


I'm back!

Sorry for the prolonged absence. Turns out this blogging thing takes an inordinate amount of time, something I've been short of these last few months. But it's playoff time, and what self-respecting hockey fan wouldn't be teeming with opinions this time of year?

I'm back on the job. However, I'm dropping Rangers Watch. The Blueshirts have done much better without my two cents. One of hockey's golden rules: When you're winning, you don't change a thing. I'll gratefully take one for the team here.

So bring on the Stanley Cup Playoffs! Let's Go Rangers!